By Hailey Nuthals, Arts Editor
There can be nothing that tickles the playful, spiteful spirit more than a one-woman production of a Shakespeare show. For plays that were originally done with casts entirely of men, it is supremely satisfying to switch the trend as far around as possible and do away with all the extraneous cast members. To be sure, it’s also supremely difficult, particularly for the play in question. “Richard III” has more than 50 characters, including various ghosts, citizens, and pages. Yet still, actress Emily Carding, under the direction of Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir, took a clever adaptation by Sigfusdottir and pushed on with the project. The production was originally developed in a residency at Tjarnarbio Tehatery in Reykjavik, Iceland, and premiered at the Prague Fringe Festival in 2015, where it won the Creative Award, Inspiration Award and Performance Award.
Sigfusdottir cleverly dodges the issue of the innumerable characters with a simple fix: as the audience is led into the theater, Richard (Carding) himself assigns a handful of lucky visitors a namecard with a string, to be hung around the next so that it is clearly visible. Chairs are arranged in two long lines facing in towards each other, so each audience member can see the others. Each of the key characters – King Edward IV, King Henry VI, their queens, the dukes, Lady Anne, and a handful of others – is now represented in body of someone in the crowd. Carding then effortlessly interacts with the characters as if they were actors themselves, all in on the storyline. Without anyone else saying a word, she uses body language, verbal expressions, and in general superb acting to imply what the dialogue of the other characters is supposed to be.
The resulting interactions are hilarious. Bemused “characters” act their part, and all the while, the dastardly villain Richard III limps around the room, occasionally using a rolling swivel chair for dramatic (or comedic) effect. As the body count rises with Richard’s ascent to the throne, deceased characters are slapped with a sticker that simply reads, in bold red letters, “DEAD.” Carding’s Richard is a witty, conniving, elegant creature. As a whole, the production works perfectly, with the rise of the duke and fall of the king coming together in a show that never lags for a second, never bores for a single moment. Not a modicum of the show was lost – not the drama of the battles, the wiles of the murders, or the soul-shaking haunting of the villain.
Between Sigfusdottir’s expert adaptation and Carding’s flawless acting, the show was an absolute success. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime show every night, in a way that is seldom achieved in any production. Just as Shakespeare is when it’s done best, it was the most comic of tragedies, the most human of villains. At this rate, we may not need men in a production of Shakespeare ever again.
“Richard III: A one- woman show” is being performed at Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance Company at 70 East 4th Street through the 20th of August as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. Find tickets and more information here.